In our consulting practice, we’re often asked what individual qualities best predict success in government sales and business development. In our research (and practical experience over the years) we’ve actually identified seven personal traits that contribute to effective selling within the complex government environment. For a discussion of all of these, feel free to request our free white paper, “Seven Key Traits of Star Government Salespeople” (see the link on the right). For now, let’s examine the strongest predictor of success: listening and value translation. We’ll break this down into smaller bites in order to better understand this vital factor.
First, star salespeople are perceived to be good listeners by their prospects. No surprises here. Buyers want their problems and needs to be truly heard. Of course, listening means more than hearing. Good listeners know what questions to ask to get to the core of prospects’ stated (or unstated) needs. They listen for clues regarding the decision-making chain, and they effectively discern non-verbal cues.
Second, star sales people are able to translate prospect problems into meaningful customer “answers”. Hearing is one thing. Being able to diagnose problems, align needs with company offerings, and provide real solutions (an unfortunately overused term) is another. Being “consultative” is a part of the equation, but only a part. Persuasion is also a valid part of the value translation process. We often see salespeople who, in striving to be consultative, fail because they get mired in prospect “wish lists” and details they don’t know how to address. They are unable to persuade the prospect to adopt new ways of thinking (ways that are more aligned with their company’s offerings). Star government salespeople don’t fall into this trap.
Third, star salespeople have learned to adapt their listening and value translation skills to the structured process of government selling. While other salespeople might be turned off by the rigid procedures involved in government procurement, star government salespeople utilize this to their advantage. They are comfortable with the playing field (and frankly know how to work the system within bounds).
A government salesperson’s ability to listen empathetically, and then translate products or service features into clear value for the buyer is essential for long-term success. If you’re sitting around waiting for RFPs to be released before you begin selling, you’re too late. Commit to getting in front of the RFP, building relationships, listening effectively, then translating prospect problems into solutions your company can provide. You’ll find yourself with “star” status before long.